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Santa Monica’s Election System Discriminates Against Minority Voters

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voting rights

On November 9, 2018, Judge Yvette Palazuelos ruled that the City of Santa Monica’s at-large voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act and intentionally discriminated against minorities, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution.

At-large elections, like Santa Monica’s current election system, allow every person in the city to vote for all City Council members. This system seems fair at first glance, but it prevents minority voters geographically concentrated into one area from electing members to the City Council to represent their interests. Plaintiff Maria Loya writes, “Since the adoption of an at-large election system in Santa Monica, the majority of the people elected to the City Council have lived north of Wilshire [a predominantly white area]. This is no coincidence; this outcome was by design, to make it difficult for people of color to attain fair representation.”

R. Rex Parris and Ellery Gordon of PARRIS, along with attorneys Kevin Shenkman and Milton Grimes, made it their mission to prove that Santa Monica’s at-large elections were intentionally designed to suppress the minority vote.

Throughout the trial, the PARRIS team demonstrated the negative effects the at-large election system has had on the predominantly Latino residents of the Pico Neighborhood for over 60 years.  Judge Palazuelos’ ruling provides these residents with the opportunity to have a voice on Santa Monica’s City Council.

Before Judge Palazuelos’ ruling, the City burdened the Pico Neighborhood with its most undesirable land uses.  Not only is there a freeway running through the area, but it is also used as a dumping ground for environmental hazards such as the vehicle maintenance yard and trash sorting facility. Worst of all, the city has taken no action to remediate the methane being emitted from Gandara Park—a place where kids regularly play in sporting events.

The plaintiffs fought for the Pico Neighborhood to have equal representation on the Santa Monica City Council to ensure accountability for the city’s actions. This ruling will allow the residents of the Pico Neighborhood to finally be heard.

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